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Chapter 50[]

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A Warrior's Family[]

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Federated Suns
December 3029

The company stood in formation in the cold clear sunny morning for another quarter hour as the ComStar MRB adept, Major Braun, Kelly and Roweyna finished walking the line of mercenaries. Hap was glad when they were ordered to get out of the cold, and put their 'mechs back in the bay.

After the 'mechs were parked in the bay, Hap met up with the lancemates at the foot of his Griffin. "Let's go to ops, see when we're scheduled to patrol." Hap suggested.

As they started toward the operation center Hap glanced at Mags, "Mags, how are you doing? We haven't talked since I got back."

"Good, Jefe, good. I heard you ran into Goliath, but Patrick got scared and ran."

"We had been chewed up by tanks going into that fight, and David nearly got his 'mech destroyed."

"If I had been there, the Goliath would have tried to run, and failed." Mags said.

Before Hap could answer, Anastasia said, "I know you're an aggressive Jenner pilot, and at close range your weapon platform can melt or destroy nearly two tons of armor in one salvo, but a Goliath's rear armor would likely sustain a full volley from your Jenner."

"Then I'd give him two." Mags said.

"Next raid I'll be sure to bring you along, Mags" Hap said as he opened the door to the ops center.

"Good, because we should never run like candy asses." Mags said as they approached the holo monitors and the watch officer of the day, Mark nodded to them.

"Mags, there are times when a tactical withdrawal is the correct answer." Anastasia said.

"No. You go down stacking skulls or make their victory shit. Running is what you do to get to the enemy." Mags said.

"Oh coffee," Joker said, "I'm so glad to see you." Joker broke off from his lancemates and went straight to the refreshment table.

"Harold, would you like coffee?" Anastasia asked as she followed Joker.

"Yes please." Hap replied as he approached the ops officer, "Mark, when are we patrolling?"

"Not today, Hap my man, Dullahans are keeping us safe for the next 24. You guys are in reserve."

"That's good to hear." Hap said as Anastasia handed him a cup of coffee. Hap sipped the coffee and looked down at her. "Thanks for the coffee, but I prefer it black."

Anastasia took the coffee and took a drink, "I don't know, Harold. It's warm and sweet, and nearly perfect, like me. Are you sure you don't prefer it this way." She told him with a coy smile.

Hap took the coffee back, "Did you take flirting lessons while I was gone?"

Anastasia gave an enigmatic shrug, "I've spent a lot of time with Roweyena and Elinor, they might have suggested a few things."

Hap glanced past Anastasia to see Major Braun across the room. He looked up from talking with Kitty and watched Hap and Anastasia. Kitty handed him a few data disks and he started walking toward Hap.

"Captain Calahad, Subaltern Vallois, a word." Major Braun said. Anastasia jumped as she heard his voice.

"Major Braun, Sir, have you seen the ComStar Adept? I misinformed him of our next patrol." Hap said

"No, he left. He said he needed to file reports and had other pressing business. Between last night's representative not being able to return today, and Adept Heinrich needing to make a hasty exit it seems ComStar is pretty busy." Major Braun looked at the watch built into his prosthetic arm, "I also can't stay long. I have to go find Eridani Light Horse, and see how one of your peers is doing."

"Very good, Sir." Hap said.

"Before I go I need you to be honest with me, I know you two are a couple-"

Anastasia looked at Kitty, "Did you tell?"

"When he asked, he looked at me with the eye, it's like it sees into yer soul." Kitty said. Braun glanced over his shoulder at her and she made a strange squeak, "Aye! Like that." She exclaimed.

Braun shook his head then looked back to Hap and Anastasia, "I need to know if you two are serious, and if Lady Valois knows."

"Yes to both, and mother approves." Anastasia said soberly.

"Good. I don't want to cross her. I met her on New Avalon and I can't tell you how infuriating it is to be pushed around by a meter and a half of irresistible charm and indomitable will. She's like a 50 kilogram 'mech fist, in a velvet glove."

Joker snickered, "Sound familiar, Hap?"

Braun turned his attention to Joker, "Corporal Cameron, shut your mouth now and I'll keep my blind eye in your direction. Talk again and I'll charge you for desertion and theft of a 'mech."

"Andale, burro." Mags said quietly, pushing him out of the Major's line of sight.

"Kitty's right, it's like that eye can see your soul." Joker whispered as Mags led him away.

Major Braun turned his gaze back on Hap and Anastasia. "What were we talking about?" he shook his head, "Doesn't matter. Hap, I need you to get all the experience you can from this assignment."

"Aye, Hap, ye need more experience?" Patrick called from across the room, "Ye can lead my lance today."

Hap looked at Major Braun. He raised a questioning eyebrow, but between the scars and eye patch it was difficult to read the man's expression. If given the choice Hap would prefer an afternoon with flirty Anastasia, but he instead nodded, "Sure, Patrick. I'll take the patrol."

Patrick laughed, "Good, 'cause the docs haven't cleared me to pilot a 'mech yet, so ye were likely to do it one way or another."

Major Braun looked annoyed, "We need privacy" he mumbled to himself. He focused on Anastasia, "The corporation that bought Vallois Solutions is trying to claim all technical information along with their patents. A lot of the project data is locked up because of it. This is making it hard to do research. I know you recently received your personal goods from NAIS. Do you have any research data on your noteputer, and would you copy it for me to take back to NAIS?"

"I'll give you what I have, but I can't guarantee it will be helpful."

"I'll take whatever you can give me. You mind if we go to the barracks now?"

Anastasia nodded, and they left the ops center. As they walked Anastasia said, "You should really speak with George Zinclair, he was Daddy's business partner. Daddy was convinced he was the smartest man he knew. I'll concede he was an eccentric, and Daddy more less look out for him, but still-"

"Hopefully this doesn't come as a shock, but he shot himself a few weeks ago. He lived alone, and since the business where he worked had been sold, no one noticed for a while. Which gave thieves ample opportunity to break in and steal anything of value."

Anastasia frowned, "George shot himself…that's…George was highly intelligent, and Daddy was his only friend. I'm shocked but not necessarily surprised."

"You might be surprised to learn how high the suicide and fatal accident rates are for scientist across the Inner Sphere." Major Braun said, "I learned about it when I got pulled into a brief so secret that I'm probably in trouble for even eluding to it." Major Braun dropped his voice to a whisper, "You should know, once you've been identified as someone that can recover lostech or make new advancements in science youe life expectancy is measured in months. It's why security is so high around NAIS, and the reason I wish you'd choose to go there."

Anastasia didn't answer, so Hap said, "Major Braun, Sir, why don't you just order her to return to NAIS?"

"I can't. Aside from Lady Vallois making it clear that it was the Subaltern's choice. There is more to it. You have to understand as we go into another war, or as the previous war drags on, the media loves to report on stories of young nobles 'shirking' their duties and using class and privilege to avoid combat. Lady Vallois told the members of the nobility that Anastasia could be held up as a noble that fought and did her duty. The generals want her for the weapons program. So I'm in this uncomfortable position where I got Dukes and Countesses telling me to let her fight, and I got officer in my chain saying, get her to NAIS."

"The nobles want to use me as a symbol, even though I technically ran at Klathandu?" Anastasia said.

"There was a military tribunal where your family's lawyer brought in enough generals, tacticians and military historians who all agreed your only options were death or capture, and you were ordered to withdraw. It was obvious there was no strategic or even tactical reason to sacrifice yourselves."

"Then your attorney gave a stirring speech about your patriotism and bravery, with a subtle condemnation of the leadership that would put you and your peers in the meat grinder that Klathandu had become. After that you were cleared. The tribunal is public record, no one can really question you."

"Last night you told us we should have 'held the line'." Hap said as they walked up the barracks stairs. They quickly passed through the empty barracks and came to Hap's room.

"If I'm being honest, I'm jealous, or I was jealous. All three of us were put in terrible situations, you got lucky, and got pulled out. I got a title, and a shiny medal, and" Major Braun held up his robotic arm and to point to his missing eye and added bitterly "an eyepatch, and three prosthetics." Major Braun paused. "Last night Henna pointed out your escape doesn't cheapen my sacrifice, it just makes life seem unfair."

"I know there are a lot of people that hate me because they think I live sort of a 'charmed life', but you're probably the first person that I feel is justified in your animosity." Anastasia said as she sat down at her desk and pulled out her noteputer.

"I don't hate you, Subaltern, you annoy me, but I don't hate you." Major Braun said. "Now I've been honest with you, and if you're honest with me, I can help you two. Subaltern I understand you don't want to leave Captain Calahad. I convinced Henna she should give up her career to marry me, and follow me around. Subaltern I can't stress enough to you that you are considered a high priority military R&D asset. You do not have the same luxury as Henna. Your nation needs you, you have a higher duty."

"This sounds like one of the talks I would have with mother, except about the weight of being a noble." Anastasia put a disk into her noteputer. "It will take a moment to copy and encrypt the files."

"Thank you, and yes you have a double burden," Major Braun looked to Hap, "but Captain Calahad-"

Hap looked uncertain, "Are you suggesting I resign my commission?"

"That's one way, but no, AFFS needs all the MechWarriors it can get. What I'm suggesting is if you two were married." Major Braun looked at both of them and his scares and bitterness seemed to fade, "AFFS regulations for dual military couples is to try and keep them together, or at least on the same planet. Captain Calahad if you come out of this assignment as an expert on small unit tactics, lightning raids, and armed reconnaissance I can get you assigned as Cadre at NAIS. You might have to spend a year with the Davion Guards to get 're-greened' on conventional tactics, but this is why I need you to get as much experience as possible while you're here."

Anastasia had sat up straighter and looked excited once Major Braun mentioned marriage. "We'll have to get Hazelhurst. Mother will certainly want a large wedding ceremony in the chapel that we've been married in for generations. It will likely take a month one way just to travel there though."

"By regulation you don't require a wedding. Really a simple elopement officiated by Commander McFinnigan and that sharp little lawyer daughter of his would be sufficient." Major Braun said.

Anastasia gave Major Braun a quick shake of her head and the reproachful look that Hap was all too familiar with, "Just because it is sufficient for AFFSs regulation does not make it acceptable to the Countess of Calais Parmi Les Étoiles."

Major Braun turned to Hap, "This is what I meant when I said, '50 kilogram 'mech fist in a velvet glove'."

Anastasia gave Hap a questioning look, confirming Major Braun's sentiment. Hap carefully said, "I'm sure you and Ms. Duke have had your own 'charming' disagreements, Sir." Hap said.

"Well, it's a little different for us. One time I pissed off Henna to the point she took my legs and left the room." Major Braun chuckled, "After an hour I crawled into my wheelchair and we both apologized."

"Sir, the disk is ready to encrypt, you'll just need to enter the decryption key." Anastasia told him.

He used his left hand to type in a quick sequence of numbers and letters then stepped back to let Anastasia finish the recording process, "Speaking of Henna I'm supposed to meet her soon. She was packing up our room. I'll let you two figure out what you want to do, but I leave you with this, be honest with me, and I'll do everything I can to help you. Subaltern Valois, don't take unnecessary risks, get your experience, raise your family's prestige, but do it as safely as possible. Captain Calahad, watch over her."

The noteputer ejected the disk and Anastasia handed it to Major Braun. As he took the disk he said, "One more thing, don't use ComStar to communicate with me if you can help it. I can't explain why, but use diplomatic patch, or military courier, unless it's time sensitive or I tell you differently." The officers exchanged salutes and Major Braun left.

Anastasia sat back down and started to shut off her noteputer, "Major Braun turned out to be surprisingly helpful. We'll have to send Mother a note through diplomatic pouch and figure out how to get back to Hazelhurst. It hadn't occurred to me that if we were married AFFS would try to keep us together."

Hap sat down on his bed across from her, "You know I haven't even asked you to marry me."

"You asked my mother for her blessing. The practicalities of how and when you ask me are just details. How could we not get married Harold? I'd already told you I'd be your wife."

"When you said you'd be my wife, you were drunk, it sounded like a joke, and we had just met."

"I rarely joke." Anastasia replied, "and just because I happened to have been drunk and had only known you a few days doesn't make my assessment of us any less accurate, or the fact I'll be a superior wife."
"You're not interested in romance and the perfect proposal to accompany your ideal wedding?"

Anastasia looked at Hap for a long moment. She moved to sit next to him on his bed and face him, "You've looked annoyed since you got back, Harold, what's really bothering you."

Hap felt the annoyance of having his room disturbed and how it felt like Anastasia was making all the decisions without asking him. "Alright, if I'm being honest, I'm a little annoyed you just moved into my room. No warning, no asking, just all your stuff arrived, and suddenly this is all now your space."

Anastasia nodded, "That's fair, but in my defense you weren't here and I had to do something with all my things, and they wouldn't fit in my room even if it was just me. I assumed you would have agreed."

"That's the problem Anastasia, you just assume that whatever decision you make is for the best and instead of talking to me you just assume I'll either agree with you, or come around eventually."

Anastasia looked wounded, "I have been taking too much liberty with your things, and your space. You hadn't complained until this moment, but I see how I was wrong. I'm treating you the way my mother treated daddy. However, they were married. So I recognize their relationship was different. I apologize."

Anastasia used her sleeve to dab at her eyes, "Harold, I recognize I've been talking about marriage like it is a foregone conclusion. I apologize for that too. I'm also sorry that I 'invaded your room' with my things. I can have them boxed up and stored on the Tir na nOg. I'll also move back into the room with Mags. Joker and Mags will have to figure out their own sleeping arrangement."

Hap's annoyance was giving way to guilt, "That's not necessarily want."

"What do you want?" Anastasia snapped, "I know I'm not perfect, but I'm trying hard to be the best girlfriend or fiancée or whatever I am to you, that I can be. You keep telling me you want to talk about things, but we rarely get a chance before decisions have to be made. Further, you generally go through life reacting to things. You seem to prefer not making direct choices. I try to make the best decision I can, and I like to think that everything I do for you, for us, is mutually beneficial. Apparently it's not, so tell me what you want."

Somehow her sudden flash of anger fueled Hap's own rage. "I'll tell you what I want-"

"Excuse me," David said from across the doorway.

"What!" Both Anastasia and Harold said in unison turning to stare at David.

David jumped a little, then got his composure, "Captain Hap, it's time for the mission brief. You're needed in Ops."

Hap turned back to Anastasia, every instinct told him that leaving this conversation unresolved was a bad choice, but he knew he had to go, "We'll have to finish this when I get back."

Anastasia nodded slowly and crossed her arms across her chest, "I'm not changing anything then."

"Fine." Hap said grimly.

"Fine." Anastasia imitated.

"Let's go, David." Hap said as he walked out of the room.

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